Archive for March 2010

Moroccan Spiced Lamb Rack with Burnt Aubergine Sauce

March 30th, 2010 — 8:45pm

Aubergine is surely the most magical of all vegetables. Stacks of shiny purple orbs sit squat and full of promise everywhere down Rye Lane,* and a particularly good looking specimen will seduce me at least once a week. When I first started learning to cook, the aubergine was also my first big disappointment – I had no idea how to cook it and my inexperienced hand left the poor thing tough-skinned and slimy. Thank goodness I persevered. Just consider a life without fish fragrant aubergines or melanzane alla parmigiana.

‘Burning’ aubergine opens the door on a whole new world for fanatics; you dump it on the gas ring of the hob, turn it every so often and then find that the inside of your charred, collapsed, steaming black vegetable has transformed from white and woolly to smoky, creamed mush.

Ottolenghi mixes it with yoghurt, garlic, lemon and pomegranate molasses and who am I to argue? It’s perfect. I’ve eaten it with lunch for a week and not got bored. It also goes spectacularly well with this lamb.

The lamb works best if you really get in with your hands and massage the rack with those spices. Leave it overnight if you have time. Minted, pistachio studded cous cous cooked in stock makes excellent bedrock and the burnt aubergine sauce is cooling and sharp yet sweet, with that curious addictive quality that pomegranate molasses brings.

One of my favourite meals of the past few weeks.

Moroccan Spiced Lamb Rack with Burnt Aubergine Sauce

For the aubergine sauce, go here.

For the lamb

1 lamb rack, about 8 chops
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp chilli powder
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp dried mint
Pinch of ground cloves
1 clove crushed garlic
2 tbsps olive oil

Mix together all the spices, garlic, oil and a little salt and pepper. Rub this over the rack, really working it in and leave overnight in the fridge. Allow to come to room temperature before cooking.

To cook your rack, preheat your oven to 250C. Sear the lamb rack, fat side down for about 4 minutes then turn over for another few minutes. Put the rack in the oven for 10-15 minutes, depending on the size of your rack. Mine was only just cooked and I left it in for 15 minutes. Rest the rack for another 15 minutes and then carve into mini chops.

* My favourite shop on the whole stretch is Khan’s – post coming up.

21 comments » | Main Dishes, Meat, Vegetables

Food From The Rye: Jerk Chicken

March 21st, 2010 — 9:10pm

You could say I’m fond of jerk, but you’d be making one hell of an understatement. The Jerk Cookout Festival has been my event of the year for the past three and I’ve struggled the rest of the time to make a solid version at home. Smokey Jerkey in New Cross (one of the best) and various places in Brixton and Peckham fill other gaps.

Caribbean ingredients are piled high on every reasonable bit of pavement here and you could buy the ingredients for a jerk marinade in almost every food store on Peckham Rye; which one you choose depends on personal preference. I’ve been here about a year and half now and I’ve fallen completely in love with the ramshackle collation that is Khan’s Bargain Limited and the lively stalls on Choumert Road.

I never stop being amused by the interest from Jamaican people who seldom fail to spot the ingredient combination in my hands and stop me mid-browse to ask what I’m cooking. For some reason ‘soup’ is always their first guess. You say you’re making jerk and eyes flicker with excitement. They love the fact you’re loving jerk but at the same time you can forget the idea of ever getting a hint at their recipe. Great jerk recipes are guarded like treasure. They are highly personal. You know the exciting ones are always the product of many tweaks over many years, passed between relatives and best friends who keep it locked against their chests like a family jewel.

A few months ago now my friend introduced me to Josh’s recipe and I was intrigued by the fairly large amount of sugar it. It made me think about what my jerk had been lacking – stickiness.

It was one of those situations where you kick yourself for not realising what the obvious and crucial omission has always been. What I had before was always hanging on the side of being a raw flavour base; kind of like eating a curry paste on its own with no sauce. The use of dark sugar melts the lot down to a fruity, perfumed glaze that chars at the edges into delicious smoky nuggets.

I used three de-seeded scotch bonnets and the heat was pretty spot on; the warm and tingling hum allows for a dollop of hot pepper sauce if it tickles your fancy. I served it with a white cabbage slaw with nigella seeds, not because it was the best match but because I had a lot leftover from the day before. It is one of my favourite accompaniments to grilled tandoori chicken.

The jerk was my most successful attempt to date; thank you Josh for the inspiration. Nothing more satisfying than moving along a long term recipe commitment. There is always one major problem with cooking jerk at home though and that is the fact that most of us will never own a proper steel drum ‘jerk pan’, although believe me when I say that once I have my own garden, I will build one. Until that day, a BBQ is the best bet.

Jerk Chicken

[EDIT DECEMBER 2011: I now have a new and even further improved jerk recipe, which I shall reveal soon. Hopefully in a very exciting way!]

1.5 tablespoons allspice
50g dark packed brown sugar
4 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
1 bunch large spring onions (about 5)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
3 scotch bonnet chillies, deseeded
Juice of 2 large limes
1 tsp salt
Black pepper

Chicken pieces (I used 2 legs and 2 breasts)

Blend all the marinade ingredients together and smother over the chicken rubbing well in. I use gloves for this, as I do when I chop the scotch bonnets. Refrigerate overnight.

Allow to come to room temperature and brush off most of the excess marinade before grilling on the BBQ. To set up your BBQ for the indirect method, light the coals in the middle in a kind of volcano shape then wait for the flames to disappear, leaving you with coals which have a light grey ash coating. Move them to the sides. This gets the indirect heat circulating around the kettle when you put the lid on. I find it helps to also brush the grill with a little oil. The chicken pieces will probably take about 30 minutes (although it depends on size) – always check the juices run clear.

To cook in the oven, place in a baking tray and cook at 190C for 30-40 minutes, or until the skin is crisp and the juices run clear.

White Cabbage Slaw with Nigella Seeds

This is a perfect match for Tandoori chicken, not so much jerk.

1 medium sized white cabbage, shredded
1 yellow pepper, grated
60ml red wine vinegar
55g sugar
1 tablespoon mustard
1 teaspoon nigella (onion) seeds

Mix it all together and let the mixture sit for a few hours. Serve.

41 comments » | Barbecue, Caribbean Food, Food From The Rye, Main Dishes, Markets, Meat, Salads, Sauces, Condiments and Spreads, Vegetables

Chorizo Stuffed Squid

March 17th, 2010 — 8:37pm

Is it time to get the BBQ out yet? Is it is it is it? No?

As much as I enjoy the odd winter BBQ, the novelty is starting to wear off. I want to feel the sun beating down on my back and the fierce heat of the grill on my face, knowing that within arms reach is the sweet salvation of an ice cold beer. I look forward to the British summer with the same fierce optimism every year; this time it’s going to be a corker, trust me.

Stuffed squid are perfect for the BBQ but in the meantime we’re OK because they also taste great cooked indoors.

Two points to remember with stuffed squids – firstly, make sure they are medium sized, not great hulking monsters and secondly, don’t overstuff. As we all know you either cook squid very fast or long and slow; you don’t want them too big or else the squid will be done before the stuffing is warmed through. They also shrink a bit as they cook so don’t pack them denser than a gap year students’ rucksack, or they’ll burst.

Apart from that it’s child’s play. I’ve made these with cooking chorizo and the cured kind and both are delicious, although I think I prefer cured, as it holds its shape giving you something to really bite down on, each paprika stained nugget exploding with flavour. Ask me tomorrow and I might prefer the alternative.  A sharp, lemon dressed salad is the perfect accompaniment and if it’s summer and you’re living the dream, so is an ice cold beer.

Chorizo Stuffed Squid

The amount of stuffing you use of course depends on the size of your squid. I used two medium sized squids. Make sure they are well cleaned before you begin. If you use fresh squid then make sure to keep those tentacles for an extra treat.

I used about 150g cooked (and cooled) rice mixed with 250g chopped, cured chorizo sausage, 1 small softened onion and a large handful of finely chopped parsley leaves. I seasoned this with black pepper and stuffed inside the squid, securing with cocktail sticks.Make 3-4 deep slashes in the flesh of the squid – this will help the heat to get all the way through.

When ready to cook the squid, oil them on the outside then season with salt and pepper. You can either grill them on the BBQ – about 4-5 minutes or pan fry them or griddle them indoors. Check they are hot all the way through using a skewer and serve with a lemon scented salad.

28 comments » | Barbecue, Fish, Main Dishes, Meat, Starters

Silk Road, Camberwell

March 14th, 2010 — 6:45pm

We deserve more decent restaurants in South East London. I’m forever championing the regions nether of river but there’s only so often one can shout about the same places. We needed fresh blood and Silk Road is it.

The interior displays a distinct lack of frills. As we bundled from the cosy bosom of a nearby pub into the freezing night air it was all of ten paces to Silk Road but once inside, you could of fooled us we were still out. Bums hit rock hard benches and coats stayed on to protect from the icy blast accompanying each new customer through the door.

Our cold starters did nothing in the way of warming us up but it didn’t matter, they were delicious and supplemented with beer. Kelp was slippery with chilli-garlic oil. Tripe, which came doused in the same, was soft, chewy and cut to just the right thickness. I find eating tripe a little like playing Russian roulette – every so often you find yourself dealing with a piece that tastes musty; it hums faintly of what it contained. This happens infrequently enough that I keep eating and enjoying it, but I’m constantly living in fear of that next farmyard hit. I would have liked a bit more chilli from both dishes but only afterwards noticed the pot of extra chilli oil nestled amongst other condiments.

Dumplings were satisfying as ever; not the prettiest of their kind but the two varieties were well skinned and packed full of rich minced beef and pork and spring onions. They were certainly nothing special but whet my appetite for the hot dishes to follow.

Home Style aubergine was brilliant, not least because it wasn’t what I expected. The pieces were peeled and cooked such that they retained a fresh juicy burst alongside their characteristic silkiness. As much as I love my aubergines bathed in liberal quantities of oil, there was a verdant quality to this dish which made for a welcome variation.

Lamb skewers came skinny, salty and cumin doused; flash grilled and steamy. Sadly while the meat on mine was hot, the eagerly anticipated fat was not and the glistening globs wobbled swiftly to the side of my plate. My fellow diners happily chomped down superior crisp, sizzling nuggets.

Middle plate chicken was actually rather on the large side. Beneath anise scented broth bobbed tender pieces of bone-in chicken, soft potato sponges and shreds of toothsome kelp. Once fished clear by a mesh of eager chopsticks the waitress arrived with a plate of slinky, wide ‘belt noodles’ which were slipped into the pot, shortly followed by another batch. Tricky little customers, it was a delightful game trying to fish one out without flinging sauce in your neighbour’s eye.

The only real failure was a shredded pork and kelp dish which I can’t really remember much about but it didn’t matter. Although at first I was the only one to claim I wasn’t full, it took all of a few minutes for my brain to kick in and tell my stomach to stop whining. Together with a few beers each the whole meal came to a puny £13 a head. For that money, I can forgive the odd bum dish. And really, one out of six ain’t bad. It’s the kind of local restaurant that I know will serve me well. Not really a place to linger but nigh on perfect for a fun bite with friends.

Nothing sates like good food at bargain prices; we giggled with glee and coughed up our dosh with garlic baited breath and the tingle of chilli on our lips, stumbling off towards the glow of the pub once more.

Silk Road
49 Camberwell Church Street
020 7703 4832

Silk Road on Urbanspoon

16 comments » | Restaurant Reviews

British Food: What the Devil is It?

March 11th, 2010 — 9:18pm

The Observer Food Monthly re-launches this weekend and promises to be even better and stronger than it was before. As part of the fun, The Observer invited me, Chris and Euwen along for a natter with Jay Rayner on the topic of British Food. Watching yourself on video is no easy task I can tell you that for nothing. Two bits of advice if you ever have to do it: 1 – make sure you spend more than five minutes styling your hair and 2 – be prepared to forget every opinion you ever had, along with the majority of words that were in your vocabulary.

Anyway, here it is. The idea of the vid is to stimulate a bit of discussion about British Food, of course, so do please share your thoughts below. I’d love to know what your favourite dishes are and your opinions on whether or not we even have a national cuisine.

24 comments » | Video

Star Anise Ice Cream

March 9th, 2010 — 8:43pm

Shoot me a jibe about my childlike obsession with ice cream and I’ll knock it back from fifty paces. It’s not dull, it’s not just for kids and I don’t need to order the gold-leaf-plated mille fuille of  fruits of Eden with a Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque sabayon; I  just want a bowl of ice cream. Its combination of baby food smoothness and melting sugared cream may be part of the appeal, yes (and classics such as raspberry ripple get me every time) but often it’s the way it so gracefully carries those grown-up flavours which has me reaching for the sundae spoon. I do love a bit of spice in my sweet stuff.

I originally envisaged this ice cream oozing all over a rhubarb galette but the recipe I used was not at all to my taste. To be fair alarm bells did ring as I was making it – 1 whole teaspoon of vanilla extract + 170g sugar must surely = sickly perfume?

The answer is yes, yes it does. The pastry was nice; I picked it off and used it as a scooper for the ice cream.

Back at my drawing board, I got a bee in the bonnet for poached pears. Simmered with a syrup laced with cloves, vanilla (half a pod) and  cinnamon stick, they were delicate, elegant and actually rather perfect. One thing missing though: pastry. Makes you wonder why I didn’t just make the pear tatins as suggested in the ice cream recipe, doesn’t it? Hmm.

Anyway, the bottom line is that the ice cream is awesome. The scary amount of star anise actually infuse just the right amount of flavour* and the base seemed particularly creamy. Now I’ve got the bug for spice I’m set on making a chocolate and cardamom version but there’s one lesson I’m taking with me and it’s this:  sometimes, a girl just needs a simple bowl of ice cream.

Star Anise Ice Cream Recipe from The Times

*I was very nervous when I clocked the amount of star anise in the recipe, but realised this is because the milk is infusing for only a short time – you need to get that flavour in fast. The end result is not overpowering.

13 comments » | Desserts, Ice Cream

Sicilian Spaghetti Cake

March 7th, 2010 — 11:09am

Here’s a way to sneak up on your next pasta binge from a different angle. Cooking the pasta for a second time in the oven gives you a bit of textural contrast from the lovely crisp edge bits, the soft inside stuffed with your weapons of choice. I’ve heard this recipe touted as a ‘good use for leftover pasta’ but really, who ever has 500g of leftover pasta? Perhaps an army chef.

What it is good for though, is using up the odds and sods in the fridge. I slung in some softened onions and garlic, black olives, jarred artichoke hearts, grilled bacon, most of a tub of ricotta and the juice and zest of two lemons. A waif end of cheese and stray stalk of parsley went on top. The secret to a good spaghetti cake is to keep it well oiled; they have a tendency to come out dry otherwise. As an alternative, try using a double cream and egg yolk mix stirred through the pasta  – the end result will be denser and richer.

So there we have it, a way to make pasta even more unhealthy than it was before; where there’s a will there’s a way.

Sicilian Spaghetti Cake

500g spaghetti
1 large onion, finely chopped
5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
150g jarred artichoke hearts in oil (reserve the oil), chopped roughly
150g black olives, pitted and chopped roughly
250g ricotta cheese
A generous handful of parsley
The juice and zest of two lemons
6 rashers of bacon
Olive oil and plenty of it
A splash of white wine if you have it

Preheat your oven to 180C

Begin by cooking your spaghetti until almost al dente. While this is happening, grill the bacon until crisp then chop roughly and set aside.

Soften the onion and garlic gently in a little olive oil (then add the splash of wine if you have it allowing a minute or two to cook out), then add the artichoke hearts, olives and bacon to warm everything through. When your pasta is ready, stir through the oil from the jar of artichokes plus your artichoke mixture, the lemon juice and zest and a really generous seasoning of salt and pepper. Stir through the ricotta and most of the parsley. The mix will probably need another generous slug of oil at this point. Don’t be shy – that’s a lot of spaghetti.

Brush an oven proof skillet or similarly shaped pan with a little more oil or butter and pour in your spaghetti, flattening it down to a cake shape. Bake for about 30 minutes, until golden and crispy at the edges. Garnish with more parsley. Slice and serve warm, with salad for a bit of psychological self trickery.

25 comments » | Cakes, Main Dishes, Pasta

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